Cadiz is a beautifully serene city on the Andalucian coast known for its elegance and grace. All of this is suspended for one week every year for what is one of the largest Carnival celebrations in the world. Cadiz’s carnival is the one of the most extravagant parties that you can attend in Europe. This fast, exuberant burst of revelry and colour is centred on Shrove Tuesday, at the end of February or beginning of March, and it’s a celebration of life and excess. Get swept up in the excitement and get ready for the party of a lifetime. In total the festivities last for ten days which take in two weekends. Rooms are booked months in advance so be sure to plan your visit well ahead of time.
The air in Cadiz is full of music during carnival. This music varies in terms of skill and style but with everyone playing their hearts out it’s hard not to enjoy it. Check out the ‘chirigotas’, officially recognised groups of ‘gaditanos’ (people of Cadiz) who wander the streets entertaining everyone with their funny songs. These songs satirize everything from pop stars to politicians and, even if you don’t speak Spanish, you can get into the swing of their jaunty tunes. If you develop a taste for their music and brand of satire, head to the ‘chirigota’ competition that takes place in Gran Teatro Falla.
While ‘chirigotas’ usually set up in improvised locations like stairways and street corners the choirs (coros) are even harder to miss as they go through the streets in open carts accompanied by guitars and lutes. As if being in an open cart wasn’t enough, they have the most extravagant costumes in a carnival devoted to flashy (and sometimes flashing!) attire. In the streets you can also find a wide variety of improvisational theatre performed by ‘ilegales’, a term referring to just about anyone who fancies taking part.
Head for C/ Ancha and C/ Columela as well as the neighbourhood of Barrio de la Viña for some of the best spontaneous entertainment. For more modern musical fare head to the Plaza de Catedral for some of the Spain’s most popular rock groups.
You may be surprised by the number of children running free during carnival but after a while it will cease to shock you. There are plenty of children’s entertainments in the plazas and squares ranging from puppet theatre to the daily ‘Toronda’, the fireworks display that takes place in the Plaza San Juan de Dios.
One thing you’ll notice is that the costumes are a lot less showy than the ones you might see in Rio. In Cadiz, which has a reputation as the funniest town in Spain, the emphasis is on satire and cleverness and you’ll see plenty of politicians and clergy being mocked. You’ll have the most fun by joining in which is easy as wigs and hats are sold on every corner. Leave your self-consciousness behind and follow the crowds to find the best parties.
Carnival in Cadiz ends with the Burial of the Sardine and you can join hundreds of “mourners” following the paper mache fish and loudly mourning its passage. Most understandable as no one wants to see the end of a great party!
While exploring carnival remember that this festival attracts people from all over the world which inevitably includes some undesirables. All the usual advice for travellers applies such as not carrying more money than you can afford to lose, etc. While Cadiz is known as a wonderful place for tourists from all countries, it always pays to be a little cautious!